They’ve shared the stage with Frank Sinatra; met Elvis Presley; appeared on television shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Milton Berle; and even performed for an audience that included England’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1958.
Yet after a half-century in show business, it was only recently that the harmonica-wielding Sgro Brothers gave the command performance of a lifetime — playing for the president of the United States.
That magical moment occurred June 15, when the Elmira residents appeared at the Congressional Picnic held on the White House’s South Lawn. Listening in on some of the Sgro Brothers’ songs, with distinct pleasure, was President George W. Bush.
The brothers had secured their special gig through some old friends in show business. “To think that here we are in little Elmira, night after night watching (Bush) on the news — and within hours you’re going to be shaking hands with him,” remarked Dom Sgro, 72, a parishioner of St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo.
Dom and his brother Tony, 70, began their afternoon by performing for more than an hour in The Kennedy Garden, offering a mix of pop, classical and Broadway for an estimated 1,700 guests. Joining the duo onstage was their occasional keyboardist Jerry Kozic, a Pennsylvania resident.
The brothers then did a three-song set after the president appeared, starting with “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and earning a big thumbs-up from the Texan president. “He was all smiles, keeping in time with the music,” said Tony, a parishioner of St. Anthony/St. Patrick.
Then came the “William Tell Overture” followed by “Stars and Stripes Forever” in keeping with the day’s patriotic theme. The Sgro Brothers appeared on a bill that included musicians from every branch of the military.
Among the audience members were Dom’s wife, Ange, and Tony’s wife, Dorothy, who sat at a picnic table on the lawn perhaps 20 feet from Bush and his wife, Laura. All four Sgros, along with Kozic and his wife Linda, got a much closer view of the president moments later — they were the last group to go through a receiving line and get their photographs taken with Bush.
During their brief conversation the president noted the Sgro Brothers’ status as Marine Corps veterans; inquired about the Southern Tier’s economy; and commented that Congressman Amory Houghton of Corning, who is retiring this year, will be missed. All the Sgros concluded that Bush emitted an amiable nature that doesn’t always come through on television.
“He was very personable, even though he had spent the afternoon on that lawn in 90-degree heat and 100-degree humidity,” Dorothy Sgro said. “We said we were honored to meet him and he said, ‘No, I’m honored to meet you.'”
Meanwhile, Ange Sgro received even more than kind words. “I said, ‘Mr. President, I am so happy to be here.’ He said, ‘Can I kiss you, Ange?’ And I said, ‘Yes, you may,'” she recalled. The act was carried out with no apparent jealousy stemming from Dom.
Also that day, the Sgro entourage met such other dignitaries as Vice President Dick Cheney and a number of senators. “We could do no wrong,” Dom chuckled. Both Sgro Brothers said the overall atmosphere was so friendly, it negated any nervousness about playing for the president and enabled them to give a smooth performance.
As for Houghton, he had sighted the Sgro Brothers earlier at The Kennedy Garden and bounded over to see his hometown friends. “He couldn’t believe we were there,” Dom said. “He told us ‘Outside of the Vatican in Rome, it doesn’t get any better than this.'”
The brothers, who have played harmonica together since they were teenagers, continue to carry a busy schedule. They were to headline the National Harmonica Convention in mid-August as well as a family reunion involving former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in October. But no matter what big events and celebrities the Sgro Brothers are connected to, Dom said their day in the nation’s capital ranks as a career creme de la creme.
“They’re all high points but I’d say the president, what we did is in a class all it own,” he said.
“Well, this is right on top … I’m still on a high,” Tony exclaimed. “The only other thing I got as excited about was working on the same show as Frank Sinatra.”
“The only two people I would ever want to meet, one is the pope and the other is the president. To meet the president of the United States, you feel in a different world,” Ange said.
“It was a memorable, honorable event — something you cherish forever,” Dorothy added.